How often do you cook with “prepared” foods like condiments, stocks or sauces? And considering it is your year of eating in, how do you feel about using things you can make yourself but buy instead?
Are you asking me if I get I grab mustard seeds and get mortar & pestle out every time I make a ham sandwich? The answer is no. As far as using prepared foods generally, I’m not opposed but if I can make it cheaper and/or better, I do.
Lately, I have been going crazy with Vietnamese and Thai food. Cooking the foods of SE Asia - cuisines with a reputation for freshness, I use more prepared foods than any other kind of cooking I do. Coconut milk, Sriracha, fish sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce and Hoisin sauce. I have some mixed feelings about just opening a jar of something, I am conditioned to believe doing so is what? Inauthentic, indolent, feckless or just ends up being less than kosher, but its not like I could make any of those quickly or easily at home - where am I going to get 10 pounds of oyster extracts to cook down and how would I get rid of that smell?
Including canned soups and bottled salad dressings, I use Hoisin sauce more than any other kind of premade food. Hoisin is a dark brown sweet/sour condiment made from the leftover residue of soy sauce – it is cooked with wheat flour, vinegar, chili, sugar and spices – notably garlic. Despite containing no seafood or fish, Hoisin or ha-hsien means seafood in Cantonese. More curious, it really isn’t used in seafood dishes, being most famous as the sauce of Mu Shu Pork and Peking Duck. Lately it is gaining notoriety as the thick brown sauce that comes with a bowl of Phở.
I just upgraded to the family sized bottle. A 20oz of Hoisin for a guy that lives alone and doesn’t have people over too often seems pretty indulgent. Well it’s not going to spoil and I have been using it as a marinade/BBQ sauce (another thing I don’t buy). Hoisin, Sriracha, sesame oil, brown sugar + garlic pestled together and a strong pinch of Phở spices and salt – well, that and chicken thighs and fire and I have dinner in the evening and enough for a few days of Bahn Mi.
In most ways, my year of eating in has not been a shock. A few things like making French Fries for 4 times the cost of buying them was a reminder of something I already know – certain crops are subsidized. For the most part this challenge/goal/quest has been all about planning – like chess, thinking 3 to 5 meals (moves) ahead – like cooking enough Hoisin chicken for a few meals. In the next month or two I am going to do 1 week of extreme eating in where I will have a week of no prepared foods – including bread, cheese, tortillas, salsa, canned tomatoes, yogurt, peanut butter – nothing. Just writing that sentence makes me think I will be going on some sort of cleanse. We’ll see how I survive that – I’d tell you in advance that I’ll be reduced to tears except, I don’t think I'll have enough saline left to cry.